There’s a new generation of rock musicians in the valley, thanks to Rock and Roll Academy Roaring Fork, an after school music program for kids. On Sunday, five middle and high school level bands will show off their skills at The Temporary.
After taking a quick snack break, the Rock and Roll Academy Roaring Fork band practicing in the Aspen Community School’s music room picks up their instruments and resume their positions. They’re working on their version of the song “Under The Bridge” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
“Sounds good. It’s fun to play," said the singer.
“It’s fun to listen, like hearing a song and like getting to play it and hear what you’re playing, it’s really cool," said the guitarist.
“Yeah, because you can hear it on the radio, then playing it yourself is really cool when you think about it," the bassist added.
This particular band is called “The Strangest Things,” based on the popular Netflix show. They’ve been meeting every Wednesday after school since September.
“It is pretty amazing what kids can pick up and in just from the little bit that I show them here or there in a week how well that sticks with them and they remember that," said Chris Harrison, Rock and Roll Academy Roaring Fork’s executive director. "And it comes back and the next week it's better and the next week it's better.”
The organization used to be based in Aspen but recently expanded its reach to give kids the opportunity to learn instruments and experience what it’s like to be in a band. This year, he has five student bands, not including a group of kindergartners or the onstage band he managed for Theatre Aspen’s recent production of the musical “School of Rock,” based on the 2003 film starring Jack Black.
Black’s character Dewey Finn becomes a substitute teacher and turns his class into a rock band. Harrison half jokes he’s the Dewey Finn of the Roaring Fork Valley. Having been brought up with a classical music background, he earned his degree in music education.
“But I didn't go into teaching right away because I really felt like there was something missing from a classical education," he said.
That’s when Harrison moved to the Roaring Fork Valley, where he claims his real music education began.
“...And I started playing in Rock and Roll bands," he said. "It was very much what it’s like in Rock and Roll Academy. When you get together in what I call the 'real world music' or outside of academic or institutional types of musical groups, you're there with friends. You're there as equals. Nobody is the musical director or the conductor and nobody puts a sheet of music in front of you.”
Harrison practices what he preaches. He plays saxophone and sings in Jes Grew, a local Aspen based rock and roll funk band. Harrison sees his students gaining the same life skills he got from participating in rock groups himself. Skills like courage and creativity.
“Once we decide on some songs, I help the kids to get the basics of what’s going on in the song, to kind of show them around," said Harrison. "But after that, they really start to pick it up and it’s very much a play by ear or learn by doing type of system.”
He said they’re also learning to collaborate and communicate with one another in effective ways. Rock and Roll Academy Roaring Fork is based on educational theories that emphasize student-taught learning.
“Research easily shows that's how students will learn the best, the fastest and the information goes in way deeper than when an adult is telling them," he began ."When it comes from another kid, it comes in in totally different channels with totally different emotions and that’s what’s so powerful about this program, is it harnesses and uses the students social energy for a common purpose towards a common goal.”
The kids from The Strangest Things--the band, not the TV show--have goals for their upcoming show songs.
“Just completely master them so it sounds really good when we perform them," said one kid.
“No voice cracks," said the singer.
“Probably to learn my songs a lot better. Master them," said the third.
By the time they exit the stage Sunday, they will have one show under their belt. One show closer to becoming rock stars.